Should You Choose Artificially Low Calorie Food To Help You Lose Weight Or Stick With Healthy?

December 4, 2012   37 Comments

One of the tenets of losing weight is that you must reduce your calorie intake. Eat less, exercise more.

Low Calorie Versus Healthy

How should you go about eating less? Fran sent me this great question:

I would like your thoughts on something I struggle with on a regular basis, that may be an issue for other readers as well.

My question to you… I read recipes and articles all the time about reducing calories to be able to eat the sweet treats and unhealthy foods we love while maintaining a reduced calorie diet. However, all these products are so unhealthy.

Do you think it is healthier to weigh maybe 10 or 15 pounds less because you’re able to maintain a very low caloric intake full of artificial sweeteners and ingredients or Is it better to simply keep the extra pounds from eating a few more calories each day and fill your body with healthy, natural fuel? I struggle with this daily…health vs. low cal!

Yeah, I hear you. At a Weight Watchers meeting there are frequently two sides of the room. One side is trying to eat healthy and lose weight, the other side is trying to reduce the amount of calories they consume to keep eating as much junk as possible (and still lose weight).

My perspective has always been that processed food that is low calorie by including artificial sweeteners or strange additives just doesn’t taste very good. I am on this planet for I don’t know how long and I want to enjoy my food.

The vision I promote here on Snack Girl is that fresh fruits and vegetables taste good when prepared correctly and are so much better for you than any of the packaged diet stuff. They are both low calorie AND healthy. Hurray!

All of the research into diet and nutrition says the same thing. You get less diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. if you eat more fruits and vegetables so there is a win-win to reducing your calories by eating healthier. I do believe that eating healthy should be a goal of people trying to lose weight versus eating less calories by any means necessary.

And, your question of keeping on the extra pounds versus always being on a low calorie diet is an important one too. I think it is possible to think you are fat and eat healthily and be in good shape.

This is such a personal question - “How much should I weigh?” While I can’t answer it for Fran, I can tell you that I spent 10 minutes on the Victoria’s Secret website looking at underwear and OMG those girls are skinny.

Who really looks like that?

I think that eating healthy is more important than being a perfect size 4. You are taking care of your body and that is essential to a long life. My guess is that you will have more energy and feel good about yourself with the healthier eating route than the artificial low calorie one.

The beauty that comes from the inside because you feel great is way more gorgeous than being artificially thin.

What do you think? What is the best way to reduce calories?

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I think the key is balancing "unhealthy food we love" with healthy eating. If you love something, make it healthier as naturally as possible but when you can't do that, allow yourself the room to balance and eat it, even just a little of it. I think the key is balance.

Totally agree with Lisa on how we look at ourselves. That's part of the balance.

As Jason Vale says, "Flip the 'I want it, but I can't have it' hand-wringing to 'I can have it, but I don't want it' calmness."

Real, whole, healthy food has worked for humans (and primates, if you're down with the evolution thing) for eons. Eating bagged/boxed/canned/highly processed food-like products is a relatively recent phenomenon and, I'd argue, strongly correlated with the severe increase in Western-civilization diseases we see these days.

If there's such a clear correlation between the consumption of this garbage and poor health, why would I want to eat it?

Lisa, I agree with you 100% and you too Jason. I have lost 30 lbs. In 10 months going to WW. I have done it with healthy choices and PORTION CONTROL. Other gals at the meetings are obsessed trying to find low cal garbage to fill their sweet tooth.

I know as I started eating healthier by adding the veggies and fruits to my diet. I no longer craved the unhealthy snacking. Changing the way you eat also changes your taste buds. When I go to indulge I notice I don't want as much because I can taste the sugar or the salt more in processed food and its less appealing.

Low fat and fat free equals chemical sh*%$! storm!!

Stick with healthy choices and the proper balance of protein/carbs and good fats. Anything processed is going to cause problems for the digestive system. Keep the processed and treats to a minimum.

I agree that it's better to eat healthy foods rather than the low-cal, low-fat we've been led to believe will keep us all thin...even though I still struggle with it. Our WW meeting is the same...those of us who try to eat unprocessed and those looking for the biggest calorie bang for their buck. I fell away from unprocessed for a few weeks and felt awful. So, I'm trying to get back in line and I really appreciate this post!

The manmade sugar subs are going to kill us in the long run. So many studies being done about the long term harm of products such as Splenda, Equal and Sweet & Low. We need to stay as close to nature as possible. I do use these sometimes, but not every day. It's very difficult. Honey and maple syrup seem to be helpful at times.

You pin pointed it correctly!! Eating more fruits and vegetables is the way to go. I don't use artifical sweetners like Splenda. It's not real and I don't think it is good for you! I'd rather use full fat like olive oil, avocados and peanut butter then cut the fat out and sub with artifical sweetners and flavors! Love today's post! And your right the VS girls are way to skinny!!

I agree with you 100%. I've been on multiple diets over the years but THIS time I'm older and wiser(?). My goal was and is to be healthy. I'm eating as fresh and local as possible and after many years of a sedentary life style have incorporated a variety daily exercise. I feel better than I have in a very long time!

Artifical foods that are low-calorie are a misnomer anyways. They actually cause weight gain. That is why in America, despite having low-fat EVERYTHING available, we are going deeper and deeper into the obesity crisis.

Do you know what farmers feed their pigs to make them get fat, and fast? Low-fat milk.

True story.

I have just spent six days visiting friends in another part of the country. They do not eat at home - they eat out in restaurants or "on the fly" (i.e. fast food) 3 meals a day. I gained 6 pounds in four days. I tried to make the healthiest choices possible, but to no avail. I am bloated, my ankles are swollen and I feel really crummy. I am back to my way of eating beginning today and am eating a nice, fresh juicy apple as we speak. Give me local, fresh and "real" food any day - processed is NOT for me!

Forget weight loss. If you want a HEALTHY BODY, you have to eat the foods that sustain a healthy body. Low-fat and sugar-free goop is still goop, and humans were made to eat FOOD, not goop. My suggestion is to eat good, sustaining foods as a matter of routine and save treats for holidays, birthdays, parties, company, visiting people's houses, celebrations, and trips (all right, maybe weekends). For the most part, foods in and of themselves aren't fattening or slimming. Eating habits and food routines are. A chocolate Santa at holiday time isn't going to hurt anything. The damage lies in making a habit of having two Big Macs a day as plain ol' workday lunch.

Guess what?! Eating healthy and avoiding junk WILL drop the pounds! Double bonus! I lost my twenty by avoiding processed sugar, drinking less wine, and upping my daily intake of fruits and veggies. I can't say I eat no sweets or drink no wine, but I am a lot more aware now and consume less than I used to. My pants fit again!

I agree that healthier foods are the best way to lose weight and get/stay healthy. However, everyone is on a different step of this journey.

I started with artificial sweeteners and they were a huge part of my journey because they allowed me to feed my sweet tooth.

However, (you knew that was coming didn't you) I learned after having a toxic reaction to said sweeteners that they did not satisfy. I always wanted more and I think that is because I wasn't eating real food. I would now rather have half a piece of cake and ENJOY it vs. have a lot of something that ultimately did not satisfy.

I do think this is something we each need to learn. Some people (me included) just won't listen until I experience it myself.

Like most of you that have posted my whole life has been consumed by diet. I have used Splenda and all the others and have not lost weight. The more I used the more I needed the next time to satisfy my sweet cravings.

After researching the internet on all things artificial I have sworn off of the artificial sweeteners and started using honey and maple syrup for the sweetness I like in my coffee and tea. But....since I was using Splenda for so long I found that I had to use a LOT of honey to get that sweet taste just right so I am using the proper amount, (one to two teaspoons), per cup hoping to re-train my taste buds.

The same thing goes for artificial butter products. Yucky stuff to put into our digestive system.

Thanks for this site and the info I gathered here.

totally agree with you. Fun fact: most women still wouldn't be a size 6 even if they lost all the weight they wanted. Bone structure/mass has a huge role. I could starve myself down to 120lbs, look like a scarecrow, and still not fit into a size 6 pair of pants because the bones of my hips are too big. That's why its really important to know your healthy weight for *your* body type...not some ideal woman that doesn't even exist

Totally agreed.

And yes, it can take time to retrain your taste buds not to demand that -everything- taste super-(artificially)-sweet, but it can definitely be done. Nowadays, I don't sweeten any beverage I drink, and I don't drink soda or even juice; now, if I have a sweetened beverage, it tastes too sweet - cloying, really - and I don't like it. But I used to like soda and juice. I've just gotten out of the habit of having them, and as the habit changed, so did the craving for that sugariness.

At any rate, our bodies aren't made to process chemicals designed in a lab; they're made to digest natural fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, etc. How could the fake stuff NOT have some kind of ill effect, to say nothing of the ill effects on the world of producing it?

I agree. Quality over Quantity is the way I like to go.

I think it's a balancing act. We are all going to die somehow someday from something. I try to eat mostly healthy, whole, as natural as is practical for me for the majority of the time, but I also like to consume some low calorie foods that do contain some artificial ingredients, such as fat free yogurt that is sweetened with Splenda. While I wish the companies would use stevia to sweeten, I do value being able to eat more for less calories very highly, so if this means a bit of "fake/processed junk" then I'm totally fine with that, knowing that the most of what I eat is SUPER healthy. We live in such an altered world and society that eating "perfect, whole, clean foods 100% of the time just doesn't work. They can be very calorie dense, and that was great for people "back in the day" where people were MUCH more active, but unless you are an athlete or very dedicated exerciser, those calories will pack on the pounds if you eat enough to satisfy your hunger. I know of people who eat VERY healthy and have had major health issues, and also people who eat a lot of junk who have the same issues. So, do whatever works for you and makes you feel your best!!

As for Carrie's comment above mine, I am the opposite... I feel quantity is a bit more important. I hate feeling hungry, and have a massive appetite... and I hate the feeling of being over my preferred weight... so as long as the quality is not SO SO horrible, and only a portion of my diet contains "less-than-optimal" quality ingredients, I am satisfied.

I have eaten in a variety of ways: average mix of healthy and unhealthy (as a kid), a fairly healthy vegetarian diet, but still moderate amounts of "junk" (pre-teen/early teen), a very low fat, low sugar, moderately low sodium vegetarian diet (mid-teen - early adult)... I experimented with the raw vegan & gluten free diet for about 5 months (was probably doing about 80% raw), eased out of that, then added several "processed junk" items back into my diet to see how I would feel on them compared to the almost overly clean diet I'd been on the past half year (I actually felt better with the junk go figure... not tons of junk, but some in addition to an overall very healthy vegetarian diet) and now I have settled on a diet that is Vegetarian, probably about 80% whole, healthy foods, and the rest some processed foods (some are "healthy" processed items such as unsweetened almond milk, tofu, etc).

I agree with nlb2358 that balance is important and everyone's is going to be different. I too eat a very healthy diet except for occasionally. There are things that I eat occasionally that may not be the healthiest but keep me from feeling deprived. In addition I'm occasionally really, really active and have to eat more and slightly differently in order to keep up. I try to eat real food as much as possible. My difficulty with this and other websites in terms of adjusting foods to be healthier (and this is not a criticism of Snack Girl who does an excellent job of checking out things I want to know about but don't want to do myself) is that many of the substitutions for savory things are sweet and I do not have the typical sweet tooth. So substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes won't do for me because I don't want to eat something sweet when I want something savory (for example). But in general I'm in favor of smaller amounts of real food over large quantities of fake food.

This is one of the most important lessons I've learned during my journey to lose weight; healthy is more important than skinny. I may never have that perfect body but I'm happy and I can enjoy fruit, veggies, pasta, butter, and olive oil along the way. Zero guilt.

What a great post. I'm definitely a proponent of smaller amounts of real food over larger quantities of fake food too. And agree that it's about finding the balance so I try to eat healthy at least 80% of the time. While I'm not a fan of artificial sweeteners, I usually opt for low fat dairy. We are what we eat so food quality really does count!

Thank you all for your input. I submitted this original question becuase I struggle with my sweet tooth (which has greatly decreased over the past few years since I've been eating healthier) and a lifetime of struggling with my weight. I've been trying to lose, I'm 20 pounds over where I like to be, but since I'm trying to do it without using anything artificial it seems that it's not coming off as quickly as it has in the past. I personally appreciate all of your insight! And Thank You, Lisa for posting!!

Its hard to argue with eating healthy whole foods over processed foods. I've found that whole foods satisfy so much there's no desire or room for ''treats''. For those rare occasions, I like to keep frozen raw mini 2-biter scones ready for quick company treats [no sugar and varieties limited only to one's imagination!] Everyone has some standbys that work for them, mine are these scones. I also use snackgirl's and food babe's great tips, recipes and reminders every day!

@barbara L -- "frozen raw mini 2-biter scones...[no sugar and varieties limited only to one's imagination!]"??? Well, don't leave us hanging! :) Link? Recipe? Vendors? Thanks in advance!

Ha-ha! I'm not surprised you commented, Andy. I think we think alike! Well, believe it or not I took a Pillsbury recipe from a very old cookbook [Best Muffins and Quick Breads] ''Cranberry-Walnut Scones'' and each time I tweaked it with great success. It yields 12 but I get 16/20. Here's the original recipe: 2c flour, 2tbsp sugar[I omit], 2tsp b.powd, 1tsp nutmeg, 1/2tsp b.soda, 1/2tsp salt, 1/2c uns.butter, 1/2c dried cranberries, 1/2c ch walnuts, 3/4c buttermilk, 1egg yolk. Using cuisinart, Pulse frozen/chunked butter into dry ingredients, then fruit and nuts, last milk/yolk pulsed gingerly til moistened. knead briefly on floured surface, form into 2 discs 6-7'' rds; cut into 8 or 10 wedges;do not separate. flash freeze then freezer-wrap. To bake from frozen,

375degrees, 20-25mins on parchment. OJ can sub for milk, I use all organic ingreds. I've done apple/nut/cin; pumpkin/nut/spice; raisin/nut/cardamom, cocoa/cin/

clove; plus savory combos too. They are my holiday ''cookies'' of choice. I'm going to try ginger/molasses

/raisin next. I think you'll enjoy this not so sickening sweet treat! :)

Thank you, Barbara! I may have to make a few subs, but I'll give that a whirl. Thanks!

Since we're trading recipes, here's one I found for some totally real, natural, whole food cookies with zero garbage. They're not sickeningly sweet, either. :)…

1.5 cups oatmeal
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 bananas
1/2 cup apple sauce
1/2 cup-3/4 cup raisins

In a medium bowl stir together the dry ingredients: oats, salt and cinnamon.

In a separate, small bowl, mash the 2 bananas and stir in the apple sauce. Mix until combined evenly.

Transfer the wet mixture to the bowl of oats. Add the raisins and stir until all is properly combined.

Form about 2 tbsp big cookie shapes. You should be able to make about 10 cookies. I like them on the bigger side, so (1) they don’t get too crispy when cooking, and (2) each serving is enough to act as a breakfast replacement or a snack that doesn’t leave me unsatisfied.

Lay out the cookies on parchment paper and bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

When done, they will be browned on the outside and set on the inside. Overall, they are soft and light with almost a cake-like texture.

wow, thanks, Andy, these sound very good and handy to have, I might try freezing them too. I love anything oatmeal. My adult kids love raiding my stash! BTW, I've used smart balance vs butter and doubled the fruit or nuts with success. Happy baking!

"these sound very good and handy to have" -- oh, the 11 cookies I made from that recipe barely lasted 24 hours (and even resulted in a little "how many did you eat" bickering!), so freezing any of them wasn't an option. :)

My stepfather was a professional baker for 40 years (and knows about our no-added-oil, vegan dietstyle), so I sent him the recipe and my mom said that he'll give it a whirl for us for Christmas, so I'm anxious to see if he's got other healthy improvements to suggest. I was thinking of tinkering with it by adding 1T of chia seeds and/or flaxseed meal and seeing how that goes... :)

Andy, you mean no oil or butter ever? I couldn't be that strict. I just use less evoo or org. butter than in the past. My daughter is the only one who is no-meat no dairy. The rest of us eat org. meat but not alot. If I can't get org. meat, we don't eat it. You've given me a great idea, I have flaxseed in the pantry [which is used in my granola] so maybe I'll add it too, to the oatmeal cookies and scones. Haven't tried chia seeds yet but I read good things about them.

@barbara L - admittedly, there are times when no-added-oil is impractical (e.g., there's an Indian restaurant that we [heart] and we know they use olive oil in their recipe; we just ask that they not drizzle more on it right before serving), but yes, for food over which we have control, we don't use any oil or butter.

That said, please don't take my comment as evangelizing; my wife and I appreciate that there are many healthy roads to take and if something works for someone, awesome. She and I focus on endothelial health (cf. Forks Over Knives) to the exclusion of (almost) everything else. And, as you point out, not everyone is going to be that strict.

I just made a green smoothie for lunch (1 bunch of cilantro, 1.5 bananas, 1 apple, and 4T chia seeds) and thought that I'd add whole flaxseeds to it. It smelled a little fishy (and by that, I mean, like fish!) to me, so I'll probably skip flax for the cookie recipe, lest I ruin a perfectly good batch of cookies. :) But I think chia might be a good add.

Chia seeds are pretty taste-neutral (if you really sniff a bunch of them, you can maybe detect some sort of odor), blend with everything (there's even chia "pudding" recipes out there which are good to sate hunger, IMO), and have lots of omega-3 fatty acids which bring 6:3 ratios back in line to what seems like a healthy level. (Flax is either a hair better or a hair worse than chia, but definitely help bring whacked-out 6:3 ratios back in line. Again, if you subscribe to the need for such things.)

The downside is that chia seeds are pretty expensive and can be hard to find. Whole Foods used to carry them in the bulk bins and they've been out of stock for many months now. A huge international farmers market "near" us has them for like $6/lb, so I stock up when I go there. I think sells them, too, but not cheaper than our farmer's market price.

Next time Lisa does a healthy-cookie post, let's compare our recipe experiences in the comments. :)

I very often feel disgusted by meat. Baby steps. Last Sat. I viewed 3 documentaries for possible holiday gifts: Supersize me, Fat, Sick and Almost Dead, and Fat-Head. I was just starting Forks Over Knives and fell asleep, but it looked like I should have seen this one first! I'll definitely watch it soon. BTW, love the glowkitchen site.

I've seen all three of those and liked Forks Over Knives best. That's not to say that those three didn't have value; when I learned about the endothelium and its apparent involvement in good cardiovascular health (or the disease resulting from damage to same), that's the path we decided to take.

My two cents is that many years ago, meat was a rarity and any animal protein was shared with a large community. To that end, it ended up being more of a flavoring or morsel. Not this half-a-plate-of-meat craziness we see these days.

I shouldn't be so cranky, though. If that's your direction and it works for you, cool. But I don't think that our bodies have anywhere near caught up with today's insanely easy access to meat. But I'm just some random dude with a keyboard. :)

Andy, I agree with that theory, even growing up in the 50's our meat portion was very small. I'm proud of the younger generation's vegetarian lifestyle and try to support it the best I can even if I do weaken esp. in the winter. I'm a sucker for meatballs, pot roast, and chicken cutlets. Maybe there's hope for me yet :) after I see this film. I'm 64 and take no pills and want to keep it that way!

I hear ya. My wife had been taking a handful of (prescribed) pills of various sorts for many years and after the last two years of our eating better (big thanks to Lisa's site for inspiration and ideas along the way) and our following a no-added-oil, vegan diet for the last year, she's been able to jettison all of those pharmaceuticals but one (I think). (Fortunately, I've been like you not interested in taking pills.)

She and I are of the opinion that this life is the only one we've got, so we need to stay as healthy as possible into old age and this dietstyle (plus exercise) seems to be a good way of doing so.

Michael Pollan (good video at refers to "banquet food" and I think that over the millennia, meat meant affluence and social standing. Never mind that those who ate copious amounts of meat (and other animal proteins) seemed to catch the diseases that are epidemic these days. Seems like maybe we should aspire to be serfs. :)

Enjoyed Michael Pollan's youtube above; hadn't seen this one. His advice is so sensible. And I passed on your oatmeal cookie recipe, while skyping, to my son at Vanderbilt in Nashville, we both will be trying this very soon.

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